Germ cell nests in adult ovaries and an unusually large ovarian reserve in the naked mole-rat

in Reproduction
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  • 1 Department of Population Medicine & Diagnostic Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA
  • 2 Department of Cell & Systems Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 3 Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Medicine, Magee-Womens Research Institute, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
  • 4 Department of Reproductive Biology, Bedford Research Foundation, Bedford, Massachusetts, USA
  • 5 Department of Psychology, University of Toronto Mississauga, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

Correspondence should be addressed to N J Place; Email: njp27@cornell.edu
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The naked mole-rat (NMR, Heterocephalus glaber) is renowned for its eusociality and exceptionally long lifespan (> 30 y) relative to its small body size (35–40 g). A NMR phenomenon that has received far less attention is that females show no decline in fertility or fecundity into their third decade of life. The age of onset of reproductive decline in many mammalian species is closely associated with the number of germ cells remaining at the age of sexual maturity. We quantified ovarian reserve size in NMRs at the youngest age (6 months) when subordinate females can begin to ovulate after removal from the queen’s suppression. We then compared the NMR ovarian reserve size to values for 19 other mammalian species that were previously reported. The NMR ovarian reserve at 6 months of age is exceptionally large at 108,588 ± 69,890 primordial follicles, which is more than 10-fold larger than in mammals of a comparable size. We also observed germ cell nests in ovaries from 6-month-old NMRs, which is highly unusual since breakdown of germ cell nests and the formation of primordial follicles is generally complete by early postnatal life in other mammals. Additionally, we found germ cell nests in young adult NMRs between 1.25 and 3.75 years of age, in both reproductively activated and suppressed females. The unusually large NMR ovarian reserve provides one mechanism to account for this species’ protracted fertility. Whether germ cell nests in adult ovaries contribute to the NMR’s long reproductive lifespan remains to be determined.

 

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